RAF Boxted: Wikis

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Royal Air Force Station Boxted
USAAF Station AAF-150

Ensign of the Royal Air Force.svg Patch 8thUSAAF.png Patch9thusaaf.png

Located Near Langham, Essex, England
Boxtedafld-10may1946.png
Boxted Airfield - 10 May 1946. As with many wartime airfields, public rights of way were arbitrarily closed or diverted. A year after the war ended, Park Lane was still cut in the north by the fuel dump and the 22 end of the main runway.
Type Military Airfield
Coordinates 51°56′16″N 000°55′55″E / 51.93778°N 0.93194°E / 51.93778; 0.93194
Location code BX
Built 1943
In use 1943-1947
Controlled by United States Army Air Forces
Royal Air Force
Garrison Eighth Air Force
Ninth Air Force
RAF Fighter Command
Battles/wars European Theatre of World War II
Air Offensive, Europe July 1942 - May 1945
RAF Boxted is located in Essex
Map showing the location of RAF Boxted within Essex.

RAF Station Boxted (also known as Langham) is a former World War II airfield in Essex, England. The airfield is located approximately 4 miles (6.4 km) north-northeast of Colchester; about 44 miles (71 km) northeast of London

Opened in 1943, it was used by the United States Army Air Force. Boxted has the distinction of having been the base for the two most successful USAAF fighter groups in air-to-air combat. After the war it used by the Royal Air Force for jet aircraft testing. It was closed in 1947.

Today the remains of the airfield are located on private property being used as agricultural fields. It also has a small grass private airstrip.

Contents

Overview

The airfield was given the name Boxted, an adjoining village, because there already was an airfield by the name of Langham in north Norfolk.

Boxted was built as a heavy bomber base and was opened in 1943. It was built to the Class A airfield standard set by the Air Ministry, the main feature of which was a set of three converging runways each containing a concrete runway for takeoffs and landings, optimally placed at 60 degree angles to each other in a triangular pattern. Boxted's main runway was 6,000 feet long on a SW-NE axis (01/19) and the two intersecting runways were 4,200 feet each in length (05/23), (16/34). There were fifty hardstands, chiefly loops but with some frying-pan types connecting to an enclosing perimeter track, of a standard width of 50 feet. Tarmac and wood chips were applied to the concrete surface and Mark 11 airfield lighting was installed for the main runway.

The ground support station was constructed largely of Nissen huts of various sizes. The support station was where the group and ground station commanders and squadron headquarters and orderly rooms were located. Also on the ground station were where the mess facilities; chapel; hospital; mission briefing and debriefing; armory and bombsite storage; life support; parachute rigging; supply warehouses; station and airfield security; motor pool and the other ground support functions necessary to support the air operations of the group. These facilities were all connected by a network of single path support roads.

The technical site, connected to the ground station and airfield consisted of two T-2 type hangars, one on the south and one on the west side of the airfield. A single blister hangar was erected which occupied a dispersal area at the northern end of the airfield, which used a farmhouse as its administrative and headquarters building. Various organizational, component and field maintenance shops along with the crew chiefs and other personnel necessary to keep the aircraft airworthy and to quickly repair light and moderate battle damage. Aircraft severely damaged in combat were sent to repair depots for major structural repair. The Ammunition dump was located on the east side of the airfield, outside of the perimeter track surrounded by large dirt mounds and concrete storage pens for storing the aerial bombs and the other munitions required by the combat aircraft.

Various domestic accommodation sites were constructed dispersed south of the airfield, but within a mile or so of the technical support site, also using clusters of Maycrete or Nissen huts. The Huts were either connected, set up end-to-end or built singly and made of prefabricated corrugated iron with a door and two small windows at the front and back. They provided accommodation for 2.841 personnel, including communal and a sick quarters.

USAAF use

The airfield was used by the United States Army Air Force Eighth Air Force and Ninth Air Forces. It was known as USAAF Station AAF-150 for security reasons by the USAAF during the war, and by which it was referred to instead of location. It's USAAF Station Code was "BX".

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386th Bombardment Group (Medium)

Although Boxted was scheduled to receive the 96th Bombardment Group in June 1943, plans were changed and the B-17 Flying Fortress group went instead to RAF Snetterton Heath in Norfolk. In its place, the 386th Bombardment Group (Medium) was moved from Snetterton on 12 June to consolidate the Martin B-26 Marauder groups in Essex for operations. The group was assigned to the VIII Bomber Command 3d Bomb Wing and flew both B-26B/C Marauder aircraft. Its operational squadrons were:

  • 552d Bomb Squadron (RG)
  • 553d Bomb Squadron (AN)
  • 554th Bomb Squadron (RU)
  • 555th Bomb Squadron (YA)

The group flew its first mission on 20 July, with operations concentrating on airfields but also attacked marshalling yards and gun positions along the channel coast.

The group was transferred to RAF Great Dunmow on 24 September 1943.

354th Fighter Group

North American P-51B-1-NA Mustang Serial 43-12408 of the 355th Fighter Squadron

Construction work at Boxted was not finished until late 1943 when the airfield was turned over to the Ninth Air Force for use by the first fighter group to be equipped with the P-51B Mustang. However, the 354th Fighter Group, was under the operational control of the VIII Fighter Command during its stay at Boxted, arriving from RAF Greenham Common on 13 November 1943 Its combat squadrons were:

  • 353d Fighter Squadron (FT)
  • 355th Fighter Squadron (GQ)
  • 356th Fighter Squadron (AJ)

The group provided long-range escort for US heavy bombers and received a Distinguished Unit Citation for its activities up to mid-May 1944 during which the 354th was instrumental in the development of the P-51 for use in long-range missions to escort heavy bombers on raids deep into enemy territory. As a result, priority for the Mustang was shifted from the Ninth to the Eighth Air Force, which converted 14 of its 15 fighter groups to the P-51. The 354th also gained the distinction of destroying more enemy aircraft in aerial combat than any other USAAF fighter group (701).

During that same period Colonel James H Howard won the Medal of Honor for his single-handed efforts to defend a bomber formation that was attacked by a large force of enemy planes while on a mission to Oschersleben, Germany on 11 January 1944. Colonel Howard attacked a formation of thirty German aircraft. Pressing home the attack for more than thirty minutes he destroyed three aircraft and. even when he was low on fuel and his ammunition was exhausted, he continued his aggressive tactics to protect the bombers.

In mid-April 1944, the 354th flew south to RAF Lashenden in Kent prior to moving to the Continent after the invasion of Normandy.

56th Fighter Group

Republic P-47D-28-RE Thunderbolt Serial 44-19770, 61st Fighter Squadron
Heinkel He-111 Nr. 701152 at Boxted, 2 July 1945 after being acquired by the 56th FG on detachment in France. The aircraft was repainted in the markings of the 61st Fighter Squadron. After the 56th departed for the United States, this aircraft was turned over to the RAF and today it can be viewed at the Battle of Britain display at Hendon, London.

With the departure of the 354th, its place was taken by the 56th Fighter Group which was transferred from RAF Halesworth on 19 April 1944 to enable that base to be converted to a heavy bomber installation. Its operational squadrons were:

Flying the P-47 Thunderbolt, the 56th Fighter Group was the most successful of the Eighth Air Force groups in air-to-air combat, and the second most successful in the USAAF with 665.5 (the 354th FG had 701 while the Pacific-based 49th FG had 664). It engaged in counter-air and interdictory missions during the invasion of Normandy in June 1944. Supported Allied forces for the breakthrough at Saint-Lô in July. Participated in the Battle of the Bulge, December 1944-January 1945. Helped to defend the Remagen bridgehead against air attacks in March 1945.

While at Boxted, the group received a Distinguished Unit Citation for strikes against antiaircraft positions while supporting the airborne attack on Holland on September 18, 1944, an operation in which 16 P-47s were shot down or crashlanded in Allied territory.

The commander of the 61st FS, Lieutenant Colonel Francis Gabreski, destroyed his 28th enemy aircraft in air combat, a record unequalled by any American fighter pilot in Europe. On 20 July 1944, Gabreski had to make a belly landing in his P-47 Thunderbolt after his propellor clipped the ground while strafing an airfield near Koblenz, Germany. Although he avoided capture for five days before being finally arrested and interrogated by the Germans, he was greeted with the words: 'Hello Gabby, we've been waiting for you for a long time!'

The unit flew its last combat mission on 21 April 1945. After the war ended two unusual aircraft could be seen at Boxted - an FW-190A and an He-111H which had been 'acquired' by the 56th on the Continent to be used as personal transport.

The 56th remained at Boxted until October when it returned to Camp Kilmer, New Jersey, being deactivated on 18 October 1945.

5th Emergency Rescue Squadron

Republic P-47D-15-RE Thunderbolt Serial 42-75855 of the 5th Emergency Rescue Squadron at Boxted.

Originally designated as Detachment B of the 65th Fighter Wing, the 5th Emergency Rescue Squadron was activated at Boxted in May 1944. The squadron's mission was to perform air/sea rescue missions with war weary P-47 Thunderbolts transferred from other fighter groups.

The squadron's fuselage code was "5F".

The aircraft were modified to carry dinghies, marker buoys and flares on their bomb racks. The mission of the unit was to locate pilots who had bailed out over the North Sea and would drop liferafts and inform sea-based rescue units who would then pick up the pilots.

The unit moved to RAF Halesworth in January 1945.

RAF Fighter Command use

After the war, Boxted was taken over by RAF Fighter Command and used at first by de Havilland Mosquito night fighters and then, in 1946, by a Gloster Meteor jet squadron No. 234. By the end of that year, the flying units had moved on and work had begun on resurfacing the main runway.

However in view of its proximity to Colchester, over which the main runway approach lay, the Air Ministry decided to abandon plans to make Boxted a permanent fighter aerodrome and the work was never completed. It was closed on August 9, 1947.

Civil Use

With the end of military control, Boxted was briefly used for private flying but very little now remains on this site to identify it as a wartime airfield. The airfield was sold in 1963 and during the 1960s the runways, perimeter track and dispersal hardstands were removed.

Today, only a ghostly outline of the airfield remains with single lane far roads as the airfield has almost been completely returned to agriculture. The control tower has been demolished and a cluster of Nissen Huts remain on the south side of the airfield close to Langham Lodge 51°55′52″N 000°55′59″E / 51.93111°N 0.93306°E / 51.93111; 0.93306.

A grass airstrip (04/22) has been built over the north end of the former wartime main runway, with a small amount of wartime concrete at the entrance along Park Lane. The Northern side of the Airfield is being redeveloped into a housing estate, with construction equipment performing site preparation.

See also

References

 This article incorporates public domain material from websites or documents of the Air Force Historical Research Agency.

  • Freeman, Roger A. (1978) Airfields of the Eighth: Then and Now. After the Battle ISBN 0900913096
  • Freeman, Roger A. (1991) The Mighty Eighth: The Colour Record. Cassell ISBN 0304357081
  • Maurer, Maurer (1983). Air Force Combat Units Of World War II. Maxwell AFB, Alabama: Office of Air Force History. ISBN 0892010924.
  • mighty8thaf.preller.us Boxted
  • 56th Fighter Group on www.littlefriends.co.uk

External links


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